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First month under lockdown sends online clothing sales spiralling down, gardening, electricals and beauty sales up

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In the month where Spring buying would typically set in, online clothing sales were down -23.1% Year-on-Year (YoY), but lockdown sent online garden sales soaring to +94.4% YoY.

According to the latest IMRG Capgemini Online Retail Index, menswear has been particularly badly hit, falling -42.9%. Footwear was down -32.8%.

However, beauty continued to build on strong February sales, spiking to +36.0%, while electricals recorded March’s third standout performance – surging by +40.2%.

In fact, during week two of the month when the Government raised the outbreak risk from moderate to high, electrical retailers saw sales jump by +47.7% YoY as consumers turned to home entertainment and raced to set up their offices.  

With the category results doing their best to balance each other out, the overall growth for March limped in at -5.1% YoY – well below the 12-, 6- and 3-month rolling averages (+4.5%, +6.7% and -2.1% respectively), but still above last month’s performance by +2.6% (MoM).

Perhaps marking the start of stockpiling, March started off with poor online sales for the first fortnight, but seemed to recover in weeks 3 and 4 following the Government’s announcement of official home isolation rules on March 17.

Meanwhile, as they are forced to shift more operations into the digital sphere, multichannel retailers outperformed their online only counterparts for the first time since April 2019, recording growth of -4.0% versus -5.5%.

Lucy Gibbs, managing consultant – Retail Insight, Capgemini explains: “Online sales performance this month is a mixed story, as retailers are faced with a multitude of challenges. ‘Non-essential’ stores closed their doors on the high street which led to the majority of multichannel retailers gaining a boost in online performance in the latter half of the month as consumers channelled their demand into digital.  However, the changing demand and customer needs has also polarised impacts on different product categories where the appetite for fashion dropped off significantly compared to garden, home and electrical which are seeing unusually high demand as we spend more time at home.”

She adds: “Next month we are likely to see a continued rise in online demand however it has never been more important to listen to consumer needs to respond to new spending patterns, communicate in a way that resonates with the concerns and needs of customers and using datapoints to inform next steps as we navigate through the changes.”

Andy Mulcahy, strategy and insight director, IMRG, says: “There is a bit of a myth going around at the moment that online sales are booming. It’s more accurate to say some online retailers are experiencing huge demand, outstripping even that seen over Black Friday, because so many people are in the exact same situation – ie stuck at home. That has created very lopsided demand among product categories.”

He concludes: “People simply don’t have much need for new clothes or shoes at the moment, which is why at the overall level sales growth is down. How and when a stronger balance in demand might be established is a pressing question for retailers currently on the wrong side of that divide.”

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